We Stare Death in the Face…

emsdoodle*Disclaimer: Some of this was written awhile ago. I’m only now deciding to publish it.

Today I held a man’s life in my hands. Just a week earlier I was breathing for someone. It is one of the most intense things in the world to have someone’s life literally in your hands and the training to give them the best shot at living. To be part of a team that insists on “racing the reaper” and giving our patients a fighting chance. We stare death in the face and dare it to fight. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. There’s no other feeling quite like it.

A week ago I was dispatched to a “sick person” near the end of my fourteen hour shift at my volunteer company. We got on scene to find a very sick man fighting for his life. As a basic EMT the paramedic in charge put me in charge of the man’s airway. I had to take over breathing for this man because he was not able to do it adequately on his own. This was the second time I’ve had to do this for someone. It is one of the craziest feelings ever to hold in your hands the ability to provide his lungs with adequate oxygen for his body to use.

As I sat in the back of the ambulance breathing for this man I didn’t even know the name of, I watched the three paramedics work on him. I had one clear job. Maintain an open airway and breathe for our patient. If you have never had this huge responsibility in your hands, picture yourself with a bag filled with oxygen connected to a tube going into the patient’s lungs. It is your job to deflate that bag every five to six seconds in order to do for this patient what is usually automatic. I soon settled into a slow rhythm. Breath…count five seconds…slowly give the next breath…count five seconds…breath…count…breathe…count… Even my own breathing settled into that pattern. I kept up that pattern up until I handed the bag to the respiratory therapist at the hospital.

I walked out of the ER knowing that I had done my job appropriately and had done it to the best of my ability. That is all that is asked of me. That’s what I did. I don’t know the outcome of that patient but I am at peace knowing I did my best and that’s all that I need to do. The rest is up to God.

Today it was motor vehicle collision. I was at the end of my shift, heading back to base, fighting rush hour traffic. All of a sudden I looked to my right and saw that an accident had just occurred on the shoulder of the freeway! A small car had smashed into a work truck that was parked on the shoulder. Instinctively, I knew it wasn’t good.

I quickly pulled over and notified my dispatch what I was doing. As I pulled on gloves and hopped out of my rig, a lady came running up to me. She was completely freaking out and told me that the man was dead! I quickly went over to the car and assessed the man. He wasn’t dead, but if I didn’t take action quickly, I knew he would end up that way.

After attempting to rouse him and getting no response, I attempted to open his airway. His breathing was what they call “agonal breathing”. Suffice it to say it’s NOT good! I stared him in the face as I reached in thru his car window and pulled him upright. I briefly wondered if the blood coming from his face would stain my uniform permanently if it got on my white shirt.

Soon another medic stopped and together we put on a c-collar and then I hopped in the back window to better keep his airway open and protect his spine. Then I started talking to him. When I’m around patients who are unresponsive, I take it upon myself to talk to them and explain what’s happening to them. I don’t know if they can hear me, but it keeps me calm, and I figure if they can hear me, it might help if they know what’s going on.

Eventually the ambulance came and I transferred care to the paramedics there. Then I left the scene and drove back to base. That’s how this job works. A bad scene. Finish your job. Leave it behind and continue with your shift and life. I didn’t know if the man would make it to the hospital. I did know that I did my best. And I took comfort in that he might have been comforted from hearing my voice.

The next day my supervisor told me that he had indeed made it to the hospital and had made it thru emergency surgery. The last I heard was that he was recovering in the trauma unit of the hospital. It felt good to hear that.

Yes, today I held the life of a man in my hands. It’s a part of my job. I’ve trained for this. But nothing can truly prepare you for the moment it happens and you have to use your training. I suppose I will always have certain details of both of these scenes in my head, but I’m also at peace knowing I did my job the best I could and the rest is up to God. It’s a good place to be. God heals memories.

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